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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Wednesday night’s storm, with the addition of a couple more showers on Thursday and Friday, brought around two and a half inches of rain. I’ve lost count of the running total, but I would bet that we’ve had close to an average year’s moisture (around eighteen inches) in the four months or so since I arrived. Among the beneficiaries are Kitty’s ducks, whose little pond gained an extension this week.

Matt has been busy with an old metal tank, attempting to build them a shelter. It’s cylindrical in shape, and he’s sliced it in half, lengthwise. The idea is to place it in the pond, with access from the water, and hope they take to roosting there rather than in the weeds, where they appear vulnerable to predators. Something has been at them, and at the latest count has reduced their numbers from fifteen to thirteen.

I ventured down-river yesterday, on this side. It’s the first time I’ve been that way for three or four weeks, and it was pretty hard going, such is the extent to which the weeds – mostly sunflowers or their relatives - have choked the paths. I had to go slowly and carefully, beating a path with my stick, just in case any stray snakes were lurking. Looking through my books, I see that there are quite a number of plants that grow tall, and have similar arrangements of yellow petals radiating from the centre, and the differences are fairly subtle to the inexpert eye. There’s the blanket-flower, there’s Golden Glow, sixteen separate species of the sunflower, and there’s the Jerusalem artichoke, which at home I have grown as a sort of annual hedge to keep the wind off my vegetables. If I could find any of those I might dig up a few roots: you can roast them, boil them or make a decent, sweet-tasting sort of soup – although they do have an undesirable side-effect. Or is it undesirable? Some years ago there was a French fellow – I believe his name was Poujade, and he even had a movement named after him (pun unintended) – who was so impressed by the amount of gas the tubers generated that he advocated growing the crop as a source of fuel.

The grasses are now setting seed, and I suppose if I’m ever going to identify a few this is my chance. I’m pretty sure that this is rabbitfoot grass…

…and that this is switchgrass. But as soon as I start flipping through those books I start to doubt myself.

After crashing through the weeds for some way I managed to climb onto higher ground and enjoy the breeze. The weather these last couple of days has been gorgeous; bright sun, never too hot, and always cool in the mornings. It’s started me thinking about the prospects for camping out. I intended to do quite a bit of that but have largely been put off, first by the cold wet weather, then by the heat and bugs. Maybe September….

On the way back I stopped, not for the first time, to look at the old grader which stands in the grass, slowly rusting. The other day when I walked past it there were two fat buzzards perched on the top. But even as I unzipped my camera-case they were gone. One day, maybe.

The grasshoppers continue to plague me. When I walk outside now the sound they make as they hop away from me, in droves, is like a heavy rain falling on the ground. I’m not sure what they’re doing in the yard, because they seem to have eaten everything worth having, and I have stripped the vegetable plot bare of what little they left. They seem to have entered that decadent phase which, history tells us, ultimately blights all successful societies. I have seen odd ones fighting, which surprised me. Mostly they are among the weeds, up in the trees, basking on the newly painted front of the house, or lounging along the hitching-rail, soaking the sunshine into their sleek bodies, and occasionally engaging in acts of procreation, always the smaller of the two crouching on the larger one’s back. I would guess that the eggs are laid somewhere safe to see them through the winter. Presumably the frosts – which could be just three or four weeks away now – will see off the adults. The ground where I had, briefly, something akin to a lawn, is almost bare, but peppered with little black pieces of grasshopper crud. Meanwhile, their relatives the crickets are infesting the house, particularly the sinks. They have been getting into my shoes, my bed, all over the floors, and occasionally – as last night – chirruping away from other hiding-places. I don’t like them, but I’m not sure what to do about them. I presume they are harmless, but I’d like to be rid of them.

I’ve been cracking on with my writing project, assembling the material out of which I hope to make something readable. What I’m saying is, I’ve almost done the easy part. There’s quite a job up ahead.